The Paper Trail

The rules are simple enough: Paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper. To most people, Rock, Paper, Scissors is a game of chance rather than one of skill, yet the ease of this game attracts people with a proclivity for competition — people, for all intents and puposes, will do anything to win, especially when it comes to throwing hand gestures.

At Raven Lounge in Philadelphia, in fact, patrons forgo mathematical probability to participate in the bar’s weekly Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament, which draws a large crowd on slow Wednesday nights, transforming Raven Lounge from local watering hole into a Rock, Paper, Scissors Mecca.

Raven Lounge

Raven Lounge owner and founder Jonathan Hunter and his team started these weekly tournaments on a whim, and since its inception, a loyal following has emerged in the past few years.

“It’s always been consistently busy,” Hunter says.

This partly is because of the Rock, Paper, Scissors subculture — those who play regularly take the game seriously — but also because of the pervasive jovial atmosphere surrounding the tournament at Raven Lounge.

With a referee on board and prizes that consist of $50 gift certificates to Raven Lounge, Raven Lounge-branded T-shirts and tank tops and giveaways from Pabst Blue Ribbon (the beer company regularly sponsors the event), the promotion continues to gain a cult-like following.

It’s no shocker, then, that this tournament attracts a large crowd, especially as the game slowly has become a cultural event for Raven Lounge regulars and Philadelphia natives.

“It’s so much fun, and people really get into it. We have lots of individuals that come out for it; some people even dress up for it,” Hunter quips, noting that in the past, patrons have come dressed as anything from aliens to pigs — random, yet perhaps also a strategy to intimidate novice competitors. 

Raven Lounge

Thus far, this tournament’s popularity has gone global, attracting audiences from across the pond. Recently, a documentary crew from the BBC in the United Kingdom stopped by Raven Lounge to film the event for a three-part series called “The Code,” hosted by Professor Marcus du Sautoy of Oxford University. The show discusses probability and math, using the ubiquitous game as an example.

Hunter says the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament was born organically from the Raven Lounge team, like most of the bar's promotions. From spelling bees to arm-wrestling tournaments to the consistently popular Rock, Paper, Scissors competition, customers look forward to what Raven Lounge management will think of next.

“We always have something creative and different. People come out for it, and they love it. They’ve been coming for years,” Hunter explains.

This creativity coupled with a strong word-of-mouth campaign and social-media strategy maintains the tournament's ever-growing popularity. That’s why it’s no surprise that Rock, Paper, Scissors is not only a fixture on the cultural map in Philadelphia but also gaining steam internationally, as well.

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